Let’s Talk about Sex, Baby.
Posted by Pedal Powered Anthropology
Am I dating myself by using a Salt n Pepa reference? I hope so.
This is going to be a bit explicit at times. Not vulgar. I’m not mad or yelling about anything. But as the title says, it’s about sex. And I’m not going to be euphemistic about it. So you’ve been forewarned. And here goes.
This one goes out to the ladies. But fellas, listen too. (yes, that’s a Tenacious D reference)
This isn’t a response to, so much as inspired by, the articles I see going around about the concept of virginity. I love them. I love that popular press publishers are discussing things like this. But without exception I’ve yet to see one that includes men in the discussion.
No, this isn’t a post of me whining about how patriarchy must not exist because my feelings got hurt.
What I mean by that is…men need to be included in this discussion because we are half the species and at LEAST half the problem.
So, this is a post about the concept of virginity. But it focuses on the ways men are negatively affected by the myths and lies surrounding it, and the ways that in turn causes men to pretty much suck at life (generally speaking).
Virginity is a funny thing. It’s pretty easily defined. A virgin is someone that hasn’t had sex. If you haven’t had sex, you’re a virgin. But it quickly gets murky and even subjective. What is sex? Most recently I read an article that mentioned the word heteronormative in the discussion. I like that.
The common concept of virginity involves heteronormative sexuality. Meaning boys like girls. Penis goes into vagina. Boom you’re not a virgin.
But…this excludes so much. I’m going to talk about specific anecdotes from my own life, but I’m going to be anonymous so’s not to be putting anyone (or myself) on the spot.
Right off the bat I know two people. These are both heterosexual examples, and as such it kind of highlights what I’m talking about. In one example, someone had sex with someone. It was their first time…and they would rather it have not been with this person. It wasn’t ideal. So they claimed they were a virgin, and made the other person feel awful and discarded because of it. But, to person A in this situation, they were still a virgin. I don’t get it either.
Second example. Another person had an experience. There was no “sex sex” involved. But toys were used. The phrase “fucked me” was also used. That’s what got me thinking once again on the concept of what individual people consider sex.
At my first job, while having a particularly gross conversation with my boss (we had a lot of those), I found out he/pretty much his entire generation considered oral sex to be sex sex. Huh.
And that’s all heterosexual stuff. I have another friend, he’s gay. But he is not interested in anal sex or play. So…then what? Has he not had sex since before he came out of the closet and was still involved with women? Not according to him.
So…while you’re a virgin if you’ve never had sex, there are all sorts of different shades of what constitutes sex. And different shades of how that’s damaging to people.
It’s particularly a problem for girls. Women are sexually commodified in ways that men are not. Their “purity” is societally prized. Women are more often the victims of sexual violence, and the amount of grey area that men have to work with when defending themselves from accusations is borderline asinine.
However, there is a pretty gaping hole in the understanding of sexual assault when men are on the receiving end. Yes, it’s less likely to happen. And less likely still I would think when it comes to a woman raping a man. But, like women, men do not have ways of “shutting that whole thing down.” In nonhuman primates, erections have been observed in conjunction with aggression. As far as I know, it’s unclear whether it’s part of the aggressive display or part of the physiology of being so highly aroused in general. Probably a bit of both. But it’s an evolutionary part of being in a stressful situation. Rape is a fairly stressful situation. Erections aren’t really a choice. You might not want it, but sometimes it’s just gonna be there.
And then there’s the macho thing. I think the cultural expectation of men being men is also expanded to include men not being sexually assaulted.
Not to diminish the extent of the issue surrounding women being sexually assaulted, and it definitely occurs far more often to women than men. I just think that it may very well happen to men more often than is commonly thought…whether because men are emasculated (bigger and stronger and taken advantage of by a woman) or just don’t understand the feelings after the event.
Girls are raised to be good and innocent. Boys are raised to chase girls. Girls are “supposed” to so say no until they meet the right guy. Boys are supposed to want to get laid.
Girls are taught on some levels that if they have a sex drive, something is wrong.
Boys are taught on some level that if they are not overly sexual, something is wrong.
There’s a disconnect. Going through high school, there was this one kid. I don’t remember his name. But a bunch of idiots revered him because he had slept with a lot of girls. The majority of them were virgins, and he had the nickname “virgin slayer” because of his fabled exploits.
Purity is commodified in girls. While “cool” is measured by promiscuity in boys. I’m not saying anything shocking here. Except maybe that virgin slayer bit. That’s pretty disgusting.
But what I’m getting at is…it can be incredibly damaging to boys when they don’t align with that. When maybe you like your mom so you listen to her more and have built a respect for women. Or maybe you have an anxiety disorder that makes you think things into oblivion and it makes performance [less than] hard for you.
Maybe your girlfriend said in high school that she wanted to wait a while before having sex, and now you’re put into the position of respecting this girl you’re gaga for, or caving to the pressures placed on you by your friends who are calling you “whipped” and generally humiliating you because your girlfriend “won’t put out.”
It’s tough being a kid.
It’s also damaging when you’re raised with this expectation that while boys have all the sex…the girls remain virgins… If that’s the case…who are the boys having sex with?
And then these kids grow up.
And maybe a man meets a woman who has had more experience. Or more partners. Or a high sex drive. Or whatever. And he’s intimidated because he was taught that women don’t behave like that. Or he was taught that women who do behave like that are easy and will be a quick lay with no strings attached…when maybe she doesn’t want that.
But here’s the thing:
The sexual history of your partner should not be intimidating.
I don’t like thinking of my girlfriend as having been with other people. But she had a life before I met her, just like I had a life before she met me. And she’s my partner. She’s my best friend. And aside from not exactly enjoying the thought of thinking of her with someone else…there is still that aspect of how cool you think your best friend is when they tell you about when they have gross and freaky sex.
You’re a team. And you should be. Whatever the dynamic of your partnership and sexual relationship that you have, you’re a team.
Here’s an analogy. If you started a business with someone you met in college, you’re not intimidated by their past experience in business. Rather, you know it’s going to be awesome because they know what they’re doing. Get it?
That’s not to say, “Well, you’re just going to have to get over it.” You’re allowed to be affected by, and to react to, your partner’s sexual history. There’s nothing wrong with admitting something affects you. Right or wrong plays a big role in how you deal with that. Don’t humiliate your partner. Talk to them. Be honest and open. Treat them like a partner and with respect. It can be tough to handle for a variety of reasons but it’s important to talk through it in a way that isn’t shameful for anyone.
And to some extent, we are all affected by the history of our partners. Maybe you have done stuff your partner hasn’t and you’re eager for them to experience that for the first time with you. Maybe they’ve done stuff that you haven’t and you’re excited to share your first time experiencing that with them. Or maybe that intimidates you. Or maybe they’ve been taken advantage of and you have strong feelings regarding that.
Whatever the case, your partner’s history plays a role in the emotions that surround them.
I’ve been with people who have had more partners than I. And some who have had fewer. Some people I barely discussed it with. Some people I discussed quite a bit with and it was fine. Some people it affected me more than others.
Now? Now I’m with someone that I share everything with, and who shares everything with me. I think we’ve pushed each other’s comfort levels a bit. But we are shamelessly open and it’s amazing. Whatever your comfort level is with that discussion, I suggest being open about it. You don’t have to known every disgusting detail about every disgusting thing they’ve ever done, but it’s always better to be open, honest and nonjudgmental. Communication is everything. And the lack thereof is why I’m writing this post.
As I was saying….
To raise girls to be sexually secure and to take ownership of their identities and sexualities–and to know that nothing is wrong with them for it–is exactly what needs to happen. But this is one area where I feel that the Third Wave of the feminist movement can really shine. Because a generation of sexually liberated and confident women is amazing. But if they’re intimidating men by virtue of getting something right, it can’t go far enough.
I haven’t done the research but I refuse to believe there is no link between sexual assault and boys being led to believe that girls have no sexual desires…while simultaneously putting immense pressure on them to have sex….and then subsequently giving them no sexual education apart from the ubiquity of porn…
Yeah…there’s a connection there.
Anyone should be able to talk to anyone openly (when it’s non-skeevy to do so!!!). People should not be embarrassed by sex (we are all here because of it, after all). And people should not be embarrassed by their own inexperience. I pushed myself to do just that because of my own issues with anxiety. I’ve been pretty open and engaging in what is apparently a non creepy way, because people open up to me about sex quite a bit.
I’ve had friends who were engaged and worried about being able to please their partner because of inexperience. We talked about some pretty gross stuff. I lent out and gave away books. Now they’re happily married and having a great time.
I’ve also had partners who were too embarrassed by their own inexperience. And inexperience here is defined by having had fewer partners. But years with one partner is perhaps more experience than multiple partners for less time. This combined with and upbringing shaming them for any sexual desires made it impossible to talk about sex. It affected situations and it affected other aspects of our relationship. And I know it’s affected other relationships going forward.
Women should not be raised to fear their sexualtiy.
Men shouldn’t be raised to feel emasculated by a confident or experienced partner. And men shouldn’t be raised to feel ashamed and emasculated by their own lack of experience…or *GASP* respecting women.
I have to leave off with one last reference. This time to my all time favorite poet, Andrea Gibson.
I’m not asking you what you’re gonna tell your daughters; I’m asking what you’re gonna teach your sons.
About Pedal Powered AnthropologyI have a degree in anthropology from Rhode Island College. My focus was in biological anthropology but I also have a broad interest in cultural anthropology, archaeology and linguistic anthropology. This blog is intended to be for the development of my own positions and ideas, mostly regarding paleoanthropology and paleontology in general, with a heaping helping of evolution on top...but also includes bits about a lot of different aspects of culture, primarily race, gender, privilege, the environment and my own personal relationship with anxiety.
Posted on 01/23/2015, in Cultural Anthropology, Sex and Gender, Social Justice Babblings. and tagged anthropology, culture, feminism, gender, sexuality, social issues. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.